When I play a game like Dragon's Call by GameDP, I am reminded of a riff on that old meme: "In Russia, game plays you." If you do what I do and explore almost any MMO or MMO-like game you can, you often find yourself joining in to play games that really boggle your mind and challenge your perception of what an MMO should be like. Dragon's Call is one of those games. Now, look, I'm up on all of the latest trends, even the ones that are super-fringe and crazy-bad; these are the trends that really interest me the most because they eventually filter into the West quietly but effectively. One of these trends is putting out games that are essentially nothing more than a button pushing contest.
I've talked about the Chinese market before and how it is absolutely filled with browser-based MMOs, some of them lasting for only a few months until they are shut down. The crowd plays as hard as it can, hopes to get ranked highly, and then moves on to the next game. It's so odd.
Dragon's Call has to come from this sort of design mindset, if not from China directly. The good news is that many games from the East are phenomenal, and just like the market in the West, the Eastern market offers a smaller percentage of good games versus bad -- but the good titles are really good. Unfortunately, Dragon's Call is not one of the good ones.
I see nothing wrong with a mechanic that allows players to sort of bot their way through a game. As long as the game is upfront about it, then the players involved know the rules and can play if it seems interesting. In fact, I really like many of the newer AFK mechanics, systems that allow players to do stuff like make a move, let the game figure out what happens, and then come back later to see the results. There's nothing wrong with that; it's sort of a giant chess game. Really, all of our MMOs are click-and-wait systems of play, but in many that wait can be so short that it seems instantaneous. The same math is being done behind the scenes in all of them.
Dragon's Call takes it way too far, however. I literally spent a few hours the other night with several browser tabs open -- as usual -- while I did stuff around the house and typed away on a rough draft. The great thing about playing this way is that I can experience a lot of different mechanics and games without having to sit still for hours. I might get up, take out the trash, set an army to attack another city, grab a bite, loot a dragon's corpse, talk to my wife about where we might go for lunch, start a mission, and on and on. It's actually a lot of fun.
That is, unless a game like Dragon's Call is involved. The games that make it onto my "play while almost AFK" list have to have some bit of depth to them. The mechanics aren't really as important a lot of the time because the titles -- games like The West by Innogames -- are set in unique places or are perfectly suited to this style of play. Dragon's Call isn't even interesting. It doesn't look good, the font options are non-existent, the combat animations are repetitious, and the quests and systems are literally so shallow that I played for hours without reading a single word on the screen. I would click, then click again, then again and again and again, and I was never in danger or forced to make any sort of decision.
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One of the new AFK trends I was mentioning earlier is at play so strongly in a game like Dragon's Age that it makes me wonder whether some gamers are literally so obsessed with being powerful or number one or with a high ranking of some sort that a gaming session for them is simply sitting down to act as a bot. When I think of gameplay like that, repetititve and soul-less, I am reminded of some office worker who grinds his life away. The difference is that the office worker is at least getting paid for his misery. The really scary part is that I am noticing more and more players getting into games like Dragon's Call, games that do nothing but offer a series of numbers and a button to push.
"Lest anyone points out my support for odd social games or weird MMOs that seem to do the same thing, let me say that I have never been in support of a game that has no soul."
Lest anyone points out my support for odd social games or weird MMOs that seem to do the same thing, let me say that I have never been in support of a game that has no soul. Hell, FarmVille, for all of its criticisms, brings joy to a lot of people. The saddest part about the whole 'Ville "controversy" is that its critics simply missed the biggest point: Those fluffy social games are creative outlets for people, allowing players to create sprawling expressions of individuality. It never mattered that the "game" part of social gaming wasn't considered "game" enough, and it still doesn't matter because the experience was immensely satisfying for millions of players and the games were and still are cute, fun to play, and creatively inspiring. Dragon's Call is bland, cold, and gives nothing in exchange for the hours and hours of play people put into it.
Of course, I am speaking as though I can look into the soul of each and every Dragon's Call enthusiast. I cannot. I'm sure there are plenty of those players who get a thrill from gaining a new level or who find the included chat to be a real social booster. That's great for them, seriously. But let this serve as an official warning from someone who might (or very well might not) be an expert on the matter: The AFK-style of gameplay is not going anywhere. There is an entire generation of players who enjoy nothing but adding friends, pushing a button, and adding a score. It's a trend that's just as scary as any repeated design that gamers continue to support, like dependence on high-level raids or daily quest grinding.
Like or it hate it, a game like Dragon's Call with its totally unsatisfying gameplay pulls in players. I cannot explain it, but I know that I am finding more and more titles like it. Be warned.
Speaking of social titles, I am jumping into Game of Thrones: Ascent next week for a trial run. For all of our safety, I have been vetting games when I can, and so far, this one is doing something that has been needed in social gaming for a long time. Watch me stream it live on Monday, the 25th of February, at 5:00 p.m. EST on our livestream channel!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!